Dictionary of Deformity
By Libby Panhorst (editor), featuring deformations by Kathleen Bires, Sara Carminati, Liza Chabot, Rebecca Chowdhury, Ellen Gaglione, Sydney Gutberlet, Brigitte Kemp, Maren Less, Paul Medioli, Max Olson, Vivienne Peng, Anna Roosevelt, Tricia Shimamura, Frances Sutton
To download & assemble this chapbook, click here.
Aesthetic Deformation Statement:
by Libby Panhorst
The tradition of the altered book represents an attempt to challenge the book as a sacred space: to reappropriate, revisit, or reimagine its physical form or intellectual intent. Altered books have their origins in the medieval palimpsest, a manuscript whose surface was scraped clean to be used again, the original text still faintly visible beneath the new. A thousand or so years later, Reverend James Granger encouraged readers of his Biographical History of England (1769) to find and insert portraits of the people named in the book, designating blank spaces for readers to do so. This practice of extra-illustration (or, to its enemies, “Grangerism”) was enthusiastically applied to other books of the era, with readers tearing from one book to add to another. In Tom Phillips’s modern alteration of the Victorian text A Human Document (1892), one book is, in the artist’s words, “exhumed from, rather than born out of, another.” Phillips pulls a new story from the old through condensation: he paints over words in the original text, revealing A Humument underneath its surface.
History shows, then, that a book grows in and out of itself. This chapbook grew in and out of many books, each, in turn, having grown in and out of the mind of its creator. The Dictionary of Deformity showcases the work (both visual and verbal) of Ellen Sheffield’s Book Arts class at Kenyon College (Spring 2011). Given the task to alter an existing codex book and take inspiration from the Galerie de Difformité, Ellen’s students folded, painted, ripped, pasted, planted, and watered their way to deformation. Deformation need not always be a disfiguration—it can be a twist, a rebirth, a dark curtain lifting to let in the light. Though the completed books appear here in two dimensions (alongside each artist’s personal (re)definition of deformity and arranged alphabetically by Exhibit), they were placed on display in Kenyon’s Special Collections in April 2011.
My creation of this chapbook is yet another link in the chain of the Galerie de Difformité. To continue adding to the chain, print the Dictionary of Deformity and reassemble it—following the instructions if you so choose, or making it up as you go, further deforming the chapbook to create yet another layer of authorship.